Morgan State lacks toughness in 65-58 loss to Bethune-Cookman

For The Baltimore Sun
Morgan State coach Todd Bozeman called his team "soft" after its loss to Bethune-Cookman on Monday.

Morgan State coach Todd Bozeman remembers when his team was called the "Baltimore bullies" by opponents in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference because of its toughness.

Now, Bozeman is worried the Bears have lost some of that edge.

While Morgan State was outmuscled in part of its game against visiting Bethune-Cookman, it was ultimately poor shooting that doomed the Bears in a 65-58 loss at Hill Field House in a matinee game Monday in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.

The Bears had won nine straight games over Bethune-Cookman before Monday, dating to 2007. Along with Saturday's 58-53 victory over Coppin State, the Wildcats completed a sweep through Baltimore in MEAC play and won back-to-back games for the first time this season.

"We're soft right now," Bozeman said. "We're not tough enough. We have to figure that out. We can't be dropping games like that. We just didn't play tough enough."

Morgan State (4-16 overall, 2-4 MEAC) shot just 21 of 66 (31.8 percent) from the field, including 5 of 19 on 3-pointers. The Bears lost despite committing just three turnovers.

Senior Zech Smith, the Bears' 7-foot center, was a force for much of the game, and he finished with 13 points and 14 rebounds. Junior forward Cedric Blossom and senior guard Blake Bozeman each finished with 12 points for Morgan State.

Trailing, 31-26, at halftime, the Bears struggled under the basket on the offensive end, missing layups and short jumpers. Bethune-Cookman (6-13, 2-3) took advantage, and a dunk and pair of free throws by Quintin Brewer extended the Wildcats' lead to 41-33 with 13:20 remaining in the game.

Smith then made a short jumper as he was being pushed by a Bethune-Cookman defender and his ensuing free throw cut the margin to 41-39 with 12:06 left. The Bears stayed within striking distance as shots finally began to fall.

Morgan State lost the rebounding battle, 42-38, despite grabbing 19 offensive boards.

"We have to find a way to really protect the paint better," Smith said. "People come in here and have career nights. It's happened more than once. We just have to find a way to come together as a defense and stop them. We definitely have to work on being tougher."

A dunk by Smith and long jumper by Blossom later cut the margin to 49-48 with 6:06 left. But Bethune-Cookman never relinquished the lead, and a 3-pointer by Mikel Trapp put the Wildcats ahead, 56-50, with 2:56 remaining.

Morgan State went to the press, but the Bears could not overtake the Wildcats. After a putback by DeLino Dear gave Bethune-Cookman a 60-51 lead, Blake Bozeman answered with a 3-pointer with 46 seconds left. The Wildcats, however, put the game away with five free throws in the closing seconds.

Ricky Johnson scored 14 of his 20 points in the first half for Bethune-Cookman. Dear had 11 points and 16 rebounds, while Brandon Stewart also had 11 points for the Wildcats.

"I was looking through some things earlier and realized we had not beaten them in seven or eight years," Bethune-Cookman coach Gravelle Craig said. "We wanted to play at our pace. That's what we have done on this road trip. We just kept the scores down and played at our pace, which has helped us."

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